Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Flying back into the political arena

Flying back into the political arena

Flying back into the political arena


Prince Norodom Chakrapong

The Post talks to Prince Norodom Chakrapong, founder and president of Royal

Phnom Penh Airways, who recently established the Chakrapong Khmer Spirit Party

to contest the 2003 general election.

Prince Norodom Chakrapong.

Prince Chakrapong, tell us something about your life

before Royal Phnom Penh Airways.


I trained as a pilot in 1963 when I was just 18 years old. Of the 600

candidates, only 55 were selected. I trained for three years and at the end of

that time only 33 graduated. I came top in a very competitive class.


went to France for a further one year's internship, and then returned to

Cambodia. I didn't fly during the fighting in the 1970s [during the Lon Nol

regime] because I was the King's son. In 1973, my younger brother-in-law, who

like me was a pilot, bombed Chamkar Morn. I was arrested along with him and put

in jail.

Later that year I accompanied Queen Monineath to China, where I

was in charge of protocol for King Norodom Sihanouk until 1975. The next year I

went to Yugoslavia for further pilot training, then sought asylum in France and

became a businessman.

Along with my father [King Sihanouk] I helped found

Funcinpec in 1980. I was put in charge of the resistance forces [at that time

fighting alongside the ousted Khmer Rouge forces against the new government in

Phnom Penh].

I was also in charge of the Ministry of Health and Social

Affairs, and in 1985 was appointed Minister of Defense for the Funcinpec

resistance to liberate the nation. During that time there was foreign occupation

of Cambodia. If [the Vietnamese] had simply wanted to liberate Cambodia they

would not have stayed longer. They should have withdrawn, much as the US forces

withdrew from Europe after the Second World War.

However in Cambodia the

issue was this: the Vietnamese sent more and more troops and civilians here once

they gained victory over the Khmer Rouge regime. Therefore we had to set up the

resistance movement against the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia, on behalf of all


It was my duty to fight the foreigners in our country. There

were three resistance movements along the Thai border: Son San, the Khmer Rouge,

and Funcinpec. I believe that if there had been no resistance to the Vietnamese,

their armed forces would never have withdrawn. They would merely have pretended

to leave. The resistance movement forced Vietnam and Cambodia to negotiate for


From 1989 Khmers had the chance to talk to Khmers [in other

factions] to pursue national unity. I led negotiations at Paris under the

authority of [my half-brother] Prince Norodom Ranariddh. My duties finished in

1991 when the country achieved unity.

I then left Funcinpec for personal

reasons, which were down to different points of view between myself and [Prince

Ranariddh]. I decided I did not want to create a rift in the party, so I left.

Also my father was no longer president of Funcinpec, and I had worked for

Funcinpec because of my father. When my father attained the throne, I left the


After that I was invited back to Cambodia by Hun Sen and his

colleagues in the Cambodian People's Party (CPP). I had left my homeland in 1973

and I wanted to return. Chea Sim, Hun Sen, Say Chhum and Sin Song asked me to

help the CPP. [When it came down to national unity] I wasn't concerned about

which political party I was in, as they were all working for the same


When did you start at the CPP?

I worked for the CPP from 1991 until 1994. During that time I was deputy

prime minister and a member of CPP's Standing Committee. I was at the top of the

party. Hun Sen asked me to take charge of seven posts: the ministries of

industry, tourism, culture, education, and social affairs, and the civil

aviation authority, as well as the national airline, Royal Air Cambodge.

What did you feel about the [attempted] coup [in 1994]?

I don't want to say much about that. As for the [the 1993 secessionist

movement] I will say this: the provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Kampong

Cham were an autonomous zone after the 1993 UNTAC-sponsored election. The CPP

claimed the election was not run properly, and felt there would be political

revenge in many districts and communes in Cambodia. We thought there would be a

civil war. Funcinpec [which won most seats] promised the people that 48 hours

after it won it would hand over power to King Norodom Sihanouk. Cambodia was not

yet a democracy and the Khmers were used to employing their armed forces to sort

out their differences.

I admit that I led the drive for an autonomous

zone with Sin Song, but there was no bloodletting. I also recall that Funcinpec

had no intention of forming a coalition government with the CPP. I organized the

autonomous zone because I wanted the King to have the duty to settle [the issue

on behalf of] the nation. The King came up with a formula [the CPP and Funcinpec

set up a coalition government].

I was just an actor along with Sin Song.

Please consider that if the top leaders [in the CPP] had not given us the order

to do that, how could Sin Song and I have gone ahead? None of the provincial

governors or the armed forces in these three provinces would have listened to my

instructions. I was the actor and I was a victim of politics.

The result

of the 1993 election was that the CPP lost power, but the King's concerns about

another civil war led him to the political settlement. Since that time the CPP

has regained power.

The victims were Sin Song and I. The leadership of

the CPP regained power, but there was no justice for us. However, I am proud

that if we had not set up the autonomous zone, there would have been civil war.

My disappointment is over the fact that only Sin Song and I were blamed for it.

I have no objection to taking responsibility for what I did, and I would

like to clarify the events through your newspaper. History shows that to lead a

coup you need maybe 100,000 soldiers, but Sin Song and I had none.


coup only saw three people jailed. I had spent more than ten years of my life at

war, and if I had done something risky I would probably have died sometime in

the last 20 years. I am not so stupid as to organize a coup with only three


If you look at the [Cambodian Freedom Fighters] movement, around

100 people were jailed. There was no proof to put me in jail. It was amusing to

me, and to this day I want to know why I was accused of leading a coup. I know

many top people inside the CPP who know I am innocent of that accusation. The

autonomous zone ended up giving the advantage to the CPP and its


Who ordered you to carry out the coup?

Chakrapong was asked not to identify those who gave him the orders, but bear

in mind that only a few people had more power, and there are not many people on

the Standing Committee.

How did you feel during your time of exile in


I was full of sadness that I was exiled for five years, because I had served

my nation since 1963 when I was 18. I became a soldier because I wanted to

protect the sovereignty of my nation. And yet I had no rights to live in my own

country, when the mafia and illegal immigrants could freely enter.

I felt

pain that I was a true Khmer yet could not live in my land. It was not fair to

do this to me when the top Khmer Rouge leaders believed responsible for the

crimes against humanity between 1975-79 had the right to live freely in society

without fear of a trial when they were integrated into the government in 1996.

It is a strange government that gives freedom to those whose hands are so


Will your new party share power if it does well in the 2003


The CPP will not share power again with any political party that loses the

next election. Cambodia's Constitution should be amended to prevent the Prime

Minister serving more than two terms in order to give other Khmers the

opportunity to lead.

Those people who have been in power for a long time

have cause to stay even longer. Ten years as Prime Minister is definitely long

enough. The current leaders have been in power for more than 20 years. Even

communist countries such as Vietnam and China have started to change their

leaders as their nations develop, so why hasn't Cambodia?


Cambodians want new leadership?

In the near future Vietnam will change its leader, and I think our people

want to change theirs. If we look deeper into the daily realities Cambodia still

lacks political stability, because we don't yet have a state of law. We have a

Constitution, we have had many laws approved by the National Assembly, but do

the leaders in this country respect the law?

During my father's rule all

the people right up to the leaders and the King respected the law. At least 80

percent of the people respected the law, but now less than 20 percent do,

particularly the high-ranking leaders.

These days even some newspapers

criticize the King [which is against the Constitution]. If there is no political

stability, there will be no economic stability, and that affects social

development which makes people even poorer.

Another big issue at the

moment is the sovereignty of the country in regard to illegal immigrants who are

coming to live here and don't respect the law. European countries have become

much stricter about immigration.

In Cambodia the Montagnard issue caused

a big protest at the United Nations. Vietnam wanted [the 1,000 Montagnards

back], so why don't they want back the one million illegal Vietnamese immigrants

in Cambodia?

I don't understand the lack of law enforcement against

illegal Vietnamese immigration. Why doesn't Cambodia enforce its own laws?

Khmers never dare to confront foreigners even when they abuse the country's

laws. I think these issues are very dangerous for my nation. If Cambodia carries

on being led the way it is, then in 30 years there will only be room for Khmers

around Phnom Penh.

What is your opinion of Hun Sen's speech warning

political parties not to use military or police to solve their problems?

I support Samdech's speech appealing to all armed forces not to get involved

in politics. I would like to see the heads of all the military and police resign

from political parties to ensure political stability. When the military and

police belong to political parties, they cannot maintain their


It is nonsense to ask military and police officials to stay

out of politics when they are still members of political parties. Their weapons,

salaries and uniforms all come from the national budget, not from one or other


The military, the police and monks all have the right to vote, but

none should belong to parties. We saw clearly in 1997 when Funcinpec and the CPP

confronted each other that the armed forces belonged to one of the


Finally, how do you see the political situation in


The commune election result [from February 2002] showed the people support

the CPP, so why is it still afraid to reform the National Election


In countries where the people have good living conditions they

tend not to think much about politics. I can't estimate how many seats my party

will get in the 2003 general election, but I have the confidence that if someone

works hard, he will be successful.

As for government policy: I employ

more than 200 Cambodians in my company and only six foreigners. The open skies

policy of this government has not helped Cambodians get jobs. Since it came into

operation, many Cambodians working within the Khmer air industry [at Royal Air

Cambodge] have lost their jobs. The policy of the government to eliminate

poverty is good, but I don't see that there is any real commitment to do so.


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